Travelers routinely try to get weapons past TSA

Travelers routinely try to get weapons past TSA
Copyright 2019 CNN
TSA officers at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport confiscate items from airline passengers daily.

Tomahawks. A throwing star. Pocket knives. A BB gun. Mini baseball bats. A 750ml bottle of Mango-Habanero Tennessee whiskey.

These were some of the items transportation security officers found in passengers’ carry-on luggage at the security checkpoints at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport’s Terminals 2, 3, and 4 within a recent 48-hour period, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Officers found more than 20 knives, many of them pocket knives, and at least one large kitchen knife.

Other items included a belt buckle shaped as brass knuckles, a handheld power drill, decorative arrows, a slingshot, snow globes, some wrenches, a hammer, and a pair of metal cat-shaped key chains, which are sometimes used for self-defense.

While most of these items can travel in checked luggage, none of them are allowed in carry-on luggage, said Lorie Dankers, a spokesperson for TSA. Yet passengers, knowingly or unknowingly, are still attempting to bring them through the security checkpoints each day.

“Because we encounter these items every day, it doesn’t come as a surprise,” said Dankers, after explaining some of the different knives that were found. “I think what our officers would tell you is that it’s surprising that after all these years, after 9-11, people forget that these items are not allowed. Keep in mind, this isn’t something that’s new, this isn’t something that we just rolled out last week. We have not allowed knives since the inception of TSA. And the fact that people have become careless in what they bring, it slows down our operation, it impacts the efficiency of the operation, and of course, if you’re a passenger standing behind someone whose brought one of these items, you’re going to have to stand and wait while a bag check is performed.”

On average, 260 prohibited items are found every day at Sky Harbor during the “low” season, said Dankers. During the busy season, the average is 320 items per day. Between 42,000 and 63,000 passengers pass through TSA checkpoints at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport each day, she said.

And it isn’t just about safety, said Dankers. Passengers can also receive a civil penalty (read: fine) up to $13,669 per violation. The fine for bringing fluids or gels, such as gasoline or lighter fluid; weapons like a BB or pellet gun, axes, hatchets, bows and arrows, even a replica firearm, into the security checkpoint or onto the plane can carry a fine between $350 – $2,050, according to TSA’s website.

Bring something more serious into the checkpoint and the fine could be between $4,000 and $13,000, and include a criminal referral.

Between Aug. 26, 2019 and Sept. 15, 2019, 253 firearms were found at airports nationwide. Of those 253 firearms, 225 were loaded and 84 had a round in the chamber, according to the TSA Blog. Seven of those firearms — all loaded, four with a round in the chamber — were found in carry-on bags at Phoenix Sky Harbor, according to the blog post. Unloaded firearms have to be checked in a locked, hard-sided case and declared with the airline, per TSA.

When a prohibited item is found, officers will usually give passengers some options: take the item to the airline and check it, take it to their car or leave it with a friend or family member who presumably lives near the airport and can get there quickly enough, or, likely the most chosen option, abandon the item and leave it with TSA. Items left are documented by TSA and sent to the state’s surplus departments, where they can be put up for auction, said Dankers.

To help answer questions of what is and is not allowed through the checkpoints, Dankers touts the “MyTSA App” and the “What Can I Bring” page on TSA’s website. There, passengers can search for various items (ie: “air mattress with built-in pump,” “artificial skeleton bones,” “bear spray,” “body armor”) to see if they are allowed in carry-on or checked luggage or not, and what, if any, special requirements are needed.

Unsure about a specific item? Passengers can also tweet similar questions to @AskTSA or send them a message on Facebook. Those accounts are manned weekdays from 5 a.m. – 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. – 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Responses typically take a half-hour, said Dankers.

When it comes to money left behind in those bins, it is counted by TSA agents and sent to the administration’s headquarters.

During the 2018 fiscal year, the most recent data available, $11,340.91 was left at Arizona’s airports, said Dankers. Nationwide, more than $960,000 was collected at airports. Those funds are then used for TSA’s security operations, said Dankers.